When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, very few had expected that the war would last this long and many nationalities getting into the war front by choice or coercion. However, emerging evidence show that Russia is sending foreign prisoners to the war front as many of its citizens have run away from conscription.
As the war prolongs and soldiers getting fatigued, it was bound to happen both Russia and Ukraine will need more boots on the ground. The question was where would they come from.
For Ukraine, it had a general call for everyone above 16 and below 60 to stay behind and join the army. It also had some sympathisers from United States, and Western Europe who volunteered and joined the army. This was revealed in the casualty list Russia produced or the identities of some of the prisoners of war.
In Russia, many young men fled from the country before President Vladmir Putin started a open recruitment of all able bodied men. His war efforts started well, running over the Donbas, Kherson regions, but became stuck when he tried conquering Kyiv, the Ukraine capital.
In a series of reversals, Russia is retreating or deserting from Kherson. However, new evidence has emerged that Russia had been sending foreign prisoners to the warfront. More shockingly, the some of the prisoners are Africans.
Zambia’s Foreign Affairs and International Corporation minister Stanely Kakubo announced the death of a Zambian student who was serving prison in Russia but died at the front in Ukraine.
The student, Lemekhani Nyirenda (23), was studying Nuclear Engineering in Russia at Moscow Engineering Physics Institute.
Nyirenda was serving a 9-year sentence after being convicted of drug possession two years ago and he was serving his sentence at Tyer Medium Security Prison on the outskirts of Moscow.
The Zambian minister told Zambians that his government had sought an explanation from the Russian government on how its citizen found himself on the battlefront.
“The Zambian government has requested the Russian authorities to urgently provide information on the circumstances under which a Zambian citizen, serving a prison sentence in Moscow, could have been recruited to fight in Ukraine and subsequently lose his life,” Kakubo said.
It remains to be seen how Russia will respond, but what is evident is that against all known protocols Putin has send foreign nationals to the front and some of them not voluntarily.
Is it not time that African Union and individual African countries should speak with one voice to get clarification? So far, African countries have abstained on any vote that is on the Russia/Ukraine war. However, this non-interference has not helped their citizens as they are dying at war front.
There is abundant evidence that both Russia and Ukraine have recruited from all over the world to boost their men and women on the ground. Many Africans from poor countries have enlisted as a means to escape poverty at home. However, it remains worrying that prisoners can be send to the front.
This calls for Africa to demand to know the exact numbers of their citizens who are in Russian prisons and how many have been send to the front to fight a war they don’t understand? The fear is there are many and it is important they are accounted for.
Last, but not least, Russia should be censured for sending prisoners to the front. It is an abuse of vulnerable people and should not be acceptable. For now, Africa can complain but we are still to get Russia to abandon this diabolic enterprise.